News / Asia

US Satisfied With UN Statement on S. Korea Ship Sinking

In this April 24, 2010 file photo, a giant offshore crane salvages the bow section of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan
In this April 24, 2010 file photo, a giant offshore crane salvages the bow section of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan

The State Department Friday expressed satisfaction with a U.N. Security Council statement condemning the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, though it stops short of directly blaming North Korea for the attack. A spokesman called North Korean claims of victory on the issue overblown rhetoric.

Officials here say the statement achieved the aims of the United States and its ally South Korea, and they are dismissing a claim by North Korea's U.N. ambassador that the outcome was a diplomatic victory for Pyongyang.

The product of weeks of diplomatic negotiations, the statement was approved unanimously by the Security Council Friday.

It condemned the March 26 sinking of the South Korean navy ship the Cheonan, while expressing deep concern over the findings of a South Korean-led inquiry that the ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo.

The careful wording of the statement is seen as a concession to China, North Korea's neighbor and main benefactor.

But in a talk with reporters, State Department Acting Spokesman Mark Toner declined to criticize the Chinese role in the U.N. diplomacy, saying the  United States is happy the Security Council spoke with one voice.

Toner called it a strong statement and that the message to North Korea is clear.

"It accomplishes our goals along with the Republic of Korea and our partners in the council," he said. "It provides a unanimous condemnation of the attack. It legitimizes the findings of the joint civilian-military investigation group, and their finding of North Korean responsibility. It also praises the Republic of Korea for their restraint in handling the incident."

Asked about the North Korean assertion of a diplomatic victory in the U.N. deliberations, Toner said he would not react to what he termed overblown rhetoric.

He declined to discuss any possible follow-on action on the Cheonan incident, saying it is time for North Korea to, in his words, absorb the magnitude of its actions.

The White House said the U.N. statement constitutes an endorsement of the findings of the South Korean-led investigation, and warns Pyongyang that the world community will not tolerate such aggressive behavior against South Korea.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a written statement she will visit Seoul later this month for futher consultation.

On another issue, the State Department said a diplomat from Sweden, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea, was allowed on Friday to visit a U.S. citizen jailed in North Korea who reportedly tried to commit suicide.

Spokesman Toner said the consular visit to the American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, came at the request of North Korea, but citing privacy considerations he gave no details of Gomes' condition or where the visit took place.

Gomes was sentenced to eight years hard labor in April after being found guilty of illegally entering the country last January.

The official North Korean news agency said he tried to kill himself over feelings of guilt, and despair that the United States has not tried to gain his freedom.

Spokesman Toner said the United States is concerned about Gomes' welfare and reiterated a call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds.

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